Wanted (and Needed): Home Sweet Home, At Any Age

As CCAI continues to celebrate National Foster Care Month and highlight the stories of older youth in foster care awaiting adoptive families, we are honored to share the story of one adoption professional who also bears the title of adoptive mom: Susan Stockham. 

Susan and adoptive son, Derrick, and their family.

  As an adoption professional, I have had the privilege of representing clients in over 2,500 adoptions.  While the majority has been newborns, the ones that have really grabbed my heart are the older children and adults.  My oldest adoptee was almost 60. There is no age limit on who can be adopted. The desire to be a part of a family does not extinguish with age. The tears that shed at these final hearings are often sweeter knowing these families are created by mutual choice, as older adoptees must consent to their adoption.

 Since 2012, approximately 23,000 kids age out of foster care each year without a permanent home, without family, and without a dependable adult to rely on for guidance and assistance. Many have not completed their high school education. Few complete college. They are at higher risks for homelessness, joblessness, incarceration, depression, and suicide. They are victimized physically, financially and many by identity theft before they even reach the age of 18. Many embark on adulthood with no one whom they can rely on. Many still want and need a family and a place to call home.

 For almost ten years we have opened our hearts and our home to a number of these kids. Some have stayed only a few weeks or months, some for many years. Our walls are full of photos of our ‘extended family’. But five years ago one very special young man came into our lives and asked us if we would adopt him. “You are already a part of our family,” I said. “But I want to make it legal. Permanent,” he replied. So we did. On our adoption day we decorated our car with “It’s a boy” stickers and drove to the court.  When the Judge asked my son why he wanted to be adopted, he responded, “You never know what a difference you make in someone else’s life. I am thankful that my Mom touched mine and took her time to invest in me.  As a result of her love and the love of my family, the pain of my years in foster care is beginning to be erased.  I want to be an advocate like her and let others know that someone believes enough in them, and to know that they are not defined by their past, but only by their dreams of the kind of person they want to be.”

 At 11:30 AM, on a beautiful sunny Friday, joined by fifty or more of our family and friends, the Judge legally pronounced us a family.  Our tears of joy were shared by everyone present. We celebrated for  three days so that those who could not make it to the hearing could still be a part of our becoming a family.

Derrick on his adoption day.

 Our relationship has deepened over the years. My son has stretched us as much as we have him. In becoming a part of our family he has seen that being committed to one another does not mean that families have to be perfect, or always agree. Putting down permanent roots has given him the courage to spread his wings. When he first moved out of state, both homesick and overwhelmed, he called and said, “I can’t do this, I want to come home.”  After reassuring him that he could always move back home, we talked through the problems and by morning he was resolved to stay and conquer his fears. It has been a privilege to watch him grow into the confident man he has become. He is now working on his Ph.D. in public advocacy in order to be a voice for those in care, fighting to increase their chances of becoming successful adults.  He encourages everyone to adopt older kids, in or out of care saying, “When you adopt an older child at least you know what you are getting.”  But, that is one of those areas where we may not agree.  We never knew on the day he chose us just how much more joy he would bring into our lives.  This summer we will again be expanding our family by adopting one more young adult.  What will you be doing to increase the success for our kids aging out of care?  My sons and I encourage you to open your heart and your home to become a mentor or family to just one more.

Hear more voices of those who have aged out. 

May 2014: Memorial Day & National Foster Care Month


Every year in May, during the holiday weekend as the nation celebrates Memorial Day and remembers those who died in our nation’s service, I call my grandmother to wish her a Happy Memorial Day. While she did not serve personally, her brothers and husband did. We often talk about her brother Ralph who died at the age of 19 as he served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. His ship, the USS Indianapolis, was torpedoed and sunk by a Japanese submarine in the Pacific Ocean on July 30, 1945–just two weeks before the nation celebrated “Victory over Japan” on August 15. My grandmother has shared with me how her family was still mourning the very recent loss of her brother as the rest of nation cheered that day. I call my grandmother every Memorial Day in part because I can–she is the matriarch of my father’s family and I enjoy talking to her. But I also call because her story is my story through our shared family history, and I want her to know that someone remembers her brother’s—and by extension her family’s—sacrifice.

In the world of child advocacy, May is also when we celebrate National Foster Care Month. Originally designated by the Children’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 20 years ago, National Foster Care Month (NFCM) provides an annual opportunity to recognize the approximately 400,000 children and youth living in foster care, as well as their foster parents, child-welfare workers, advocates and mentors. It also continues to bring attention to the many challenges faced by children and youth in foster care. Although foster care is intended to be temporary, children and youth remain in the system for an average of two years, and more than 23,400 youth age out of foster care each year without reunification or adoption.

At CCAI, we are keenly aware of the heart cries of these children to be part of a safe, loving and forever family—and this May we are focused on raising awareness about the challenges that older children and youth face in finding their forever families. Did you know that of the 101,666 children available for adoption out of foster care in FY 2012, only 52,039 were adopted? And sadly, for children age nine or older, who make up 48% of the total number of children in foster care, only 25% (13,184) from this age group were adopted (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013). We know that without the security and support of a family, those who age out of foster care struggle to obtain housing, insurance, higher education and employment. We also know that all too often laws and policies create barriers that make it difficult for children to find their forever families, and thus CCAI’s mission is to identify any such barriers and support policymakers as they remedy them.

President Obama expressed his support for National Foster Care Month in an official Presidential Proclamation; both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives registered their support through Resolutions. Add your voice to theirs! This May, we invite you to consider ways you might become more involved in the lives of children and youth in foster care – because every single child deserves the opportunity to call a grandparent of their very own on Memorial Day and learn parts of our nation’s history through a special connection with someone who lived it.

Becky Weichhand, Director of Policy, CCAI

Making Unadoptable Unacceptable

CCAI is founded upon the ideal that every child in the world both needs and deserves a safe, loving and permanent family. And we exist to identify the legal and policy barriers that prevent children from realizing this basic right. As we continue to celebrate National Foster Care month, it is important to remember that foster care is not meant to be a permanent solution for children. Children need families and yet of the 101,666 children available for adoption out of foster care in FY 2012, only 52,039 were adopted. Even more concerning, children age nine or older, while accounting for 48 percent of the total number of children in foster care, accounted for only 25 percent (13,184) of these adoptions (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013).

We are not the only ones who believe that there is no such thing as an unadoptable child.  Our friends and partners at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption not only advance this message every day, they practice what they preach.  In celebration of National Foster Care Month, CCAI is excited to share the perspective of a social worker who has successfully recruited adoptive families for those children the foster care system said could not be adopted.  In his five years as a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Recruiter in Wyoming, Bryan Cook has been instrumental in helping many kids find permanent homes.  Below he speaks of the tools he has on hand, as well as some of the challenges he faces in his daily work to connect children and youth with a loving forever family. 


Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) is a signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This program focuses on finding forever families for older youth in foster care. Our mantra is that every child/youth deserves a forever family, and our core belief is “unadoptable is unacceptable.” The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption was started in 1992 by the founder of Wendy’s Restaurants, Dave Thomas, and WWK began in 2004.

Many barriers exist in the search for adoptive families—Wyoming is the ninth largest state geographically but has the lowest population of any state, with roughly 500,000 residents. Because of our small population, there are fewer potential adoptive families, and our communities are spread out and rural. Many of the smaller communities in our state may not have the therapeutic, medical or educational services that youth on our caseloads will need when transitioning into their adoptive families.

Wyoming has a lack of pre- and post-adoptive support services for families. This lack of support often reduces the rate of permanency for youth from foster care. I’ve needed to become knowledgeable about all of the services provided in a given city, and researched many online support resources to provide this information to families.

I must be very creative in my search for families. I often partner with foster care coordinators and private adoption agencies to locate prospective families. I also use newspaper, radio, television and even social media to raise public awareness of the need for adoptive and foster families. I do a lot of file mining to locate birth family members for the youth as well as other connections. I then build a genogram for the youth and reach out to the identified family members. Building a genogram and family tree also helps the youth gain a sense of belonging and self. I contact large employers throughout our state to speak with their employees about adoption, and reach out to churches and religious organizations to educate them about the need.

WWK’s child-focused recruitment technique stresses the importance of face-to-face meetings with the youth as often as possible to build a strong relationship. It also helps recruiters better understand the needs of the children and identify the best possible family. This practice produces strong results and makes the youth feel as though they are part of the recruitment process and that their voices are heard. It’s especially important for the older youth on the case load because they typically have a history of multiple placements and abandonment. They long to feel as though they belong and to have lasting relationships.

Late last year I was able to attend the high school graduation for a young man on my caseload. It was a 600-mile round trip in wintry conditions, but I made it. I had promised him I would make it. His caseworker and family members did not attend the ceremony, so he was very glad to see me. By having a strong relationship with him I was able to be there on the proudest day of his life. We were able to take some pictures together, and we even ate the cake that he had made for the occasion. It made me very happy to do it, and I realized that even the smallest of gestures make a world of difference. Moments like this strengthen my resolve and remind me how important our job is.

I am proud to be a youth advocate, mentor and adoption recruiter for youth growing up in foster care. It truly is an honor.

Bryan Cook
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter

Thank You Mom: How Kevin Durant’s speech to his own mother spoke volumes to me.

“Thank You Mom: How Kevin Durant’s speech to his own mother spoke volumes to me.”

This past Tuesday, Kevin Durant received 119 of 125 first place votes and was named MVP for the NBA 2014 season. With tears in his eyes he described all he and his mother had overcome in life. In that moment, this is what he said about his mother, Wanda Pratt: “When something good happens to you, I don’t know about you guys, but I tend to look back to what brought me here…We weren’t supposed to be here. You made us believe. You kept us off the street, put clothes on our backs, food on our table. When you did not eat, you made sure we ate. You went to sleep hungry. You sacrificed for us. You’re the real MVP.”

And a little over a month ago, Actor Jared Leto said the following while accepting his Oscar: “In 1971, in Bossier City Louisiana, there was a teenage girl who was pregnant with her second child. She was a high school dropout and a single mom, but somehow she managed to make a better life for herself and her children. She encouraged here kids to be creative and work hard and do something special. That girl was my mother and she’s here tonight. I just want to say ‘I love you mom, thank you for teaching me to dream.” Fellow Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey also talked about the incredible impact his parents had on him as both a person and as an actor that evening. He said, “Dad, you taught me to be a man and Mama, you taught me and my little brothers to respect ourselves and in turn we learned to respect others.”

Like many of you, one of the highlights of this past winter for me was watching the Sochi Winter Olympics with my children. Appearing throughout the games broadcast on television was a commercial sponsored by Proctor and Gamble, the self proclaimed “Proud Sponsor of Moms.” This particular ad featured the lifetime of falls experienced by a budding figure skater, skier and hockey player, and the equal number of times the athletes’ mothers were there to help them get back on their feet. I was so moved by this ad that I dashed to my computer to learn more about the campaign. I quickly discovered that there were several ads, all designed to serve as a reminder that behind every great athlete there is a mother who drove them to the 5:30 am practices, paid for their first lessons and cheered them on in both victory and defeat.

These ads and speeches invoke a tear in the eye of many who see them because they feature a basic premise that we all know in our hearts of hearts to be true – a loving, supportive parent is the key that unlocks a child’s full potential. Some of us learned this lesson from personal experience. Others had it reinforced by decades of brain science that stresses the importance of the parent-child relationship in human development.

But on this day of all days, shouldn’t we be asking ourselves these questions: What happens to the potential of the child whose front row seat on opening night is empty? What if that Olympic gold medalist had no one there when learning to skate for the first time? And does the NBA MVP ever realize his dream if there is not a mother there to remind him that anything is possible when you believe?

I for one believe that each and every child in this world both needs and deserves a mother. I know the incredible impact my own mother had on my life. Not a day goes by where I am not cognizant of the fact that she made me the woman I am today. So we have a choice to make. We can sit idly by while future Oscar winners, MVPs and Olympians slip through our fingers, or we can connect them to that one loving adult who will champion them and help make all their dreams come true.

By Kathleen Strottman